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Slow Tuscany > Tuscany > Arezzo > Piero della Francesca
Piero della Francesca:
the "master of light"

Damiano Andreini

Year after year the bright, vigorous sun immersed in an intensely blue sky inaugurates spring in Tuscany. I won't go any further with this description because it is not easy to describe spring. I would risk sounding rhetorical. Even though there are thousands of postcards, posters, and calendars that are produced every year in this season in Tuscany (some very beautiful), I still think that the best "photographer" of the Tuscan spring is a painter. He lived more than 500 years ago.

I'm not thinking of Botticelli and his famous "Primavera" preserved at the Uffizi. I am thinking of Piero della Francesca. Those of you who have been to Tuscany in the springtime or in the beginning of summer will surely remember the high sun, the soft shadows and the light colors that seem to crash into everything from the ground to the sky. That same light and those same colors were precious elements to Piero both in the frescoes of Arezzo, Borgo San Sepolcro, Monterchi and in the tables of Urbino, London, the Uffizi.

Piero della Francesca is considered by today's international critics to be the best painter of the 1400's in Italy. Truthfully, these types of classifications have an extremely relative value, but nonetheless, they swear by the incredible talent of the painter from Arezzo who has now become world renowned. Why? If you have a chance to take a trip to Tuscany, maybe to Arezzo or nearby, you will discover that right in Arezzo there is San Francesco Church. Its frescoed walls were done completely by Piero during the 1450's. If you can, try to come between now and the beginning of July and in the morning if possible. Between the hours of 9am and 11am is when there is the best sunlight.

Once inside the church, stop at any of the scenes in the cycle of frescoes that represent the "Story of the True Cross" (by the way, you have probably seen them if you saw the film "The English Patient", when Hannah (Juliette Binoche) enters the church and swings from a rope along the painted walls which she illuminates with a torch. The effect in the film was very beautiful, but unfortunately, the frescoes were a mediocre imitation of the originals. The frescoes have been recently restored. Take your time and observe the light, luminous effect that Piero gave to the sky, the figures, houses and the countryside in the background.

Then go outside the church and look around. You will notice that there are no differences. The same space, buildings, but above all, there is that same light and atmosphere which is so real, concrete, but mostly luminous, clear and serene. You can play this game again and again with Piero's paintings and little by little you will have the impression that the subjects were painted on transparent paper against a window pane. Those scenes will seem to come to life before your very eyes as if the frescoes could enjoy that same light with which the sun illuminates the world outside of the church.

The reason why Piero della Francesca was defined as the "Master of the Light" will soon become very clear to you. No other was able to fixate the soul and character of a Tuscan spring.

"Ars utinam mores animumque effingere posset! Pulchrior in terris nulla tabella foret."
(If art could represent character and the soul there wouldn't be a painting on this earth more beautiful).
Marziale, 1 Century Latin poet.

Damiano Andreini
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